In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed “Hansel” and “Gretel.” They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called “witch” by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children.
Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, this haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children, and tells a resonant, riveting story.
A heartbreaking, wonderfully written tale of lore, truth, and horror. Little portions of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale come to life in the haunting atmosphere of World War II Poland. Everything from the names, the crumbs, the modern conception of a “witch,” even the burning oven. Despite all the hardships and sadness, I can promise you there is a happy ending. Not a cheerful, sun-is-shining one, but an ending that makes the breath you didn’t realize you were holding release.
There are multiple stories woven into the children’s. The reader learns about the various villagers; the witch, her grand-daughter, and the grand-daughter’s lover; the Nazi occupiers; and the partisans causing raucous to the Nazis in the forest. Murphy goes into detail about the various ways one could disguise their true identity, the starvation the Polish endured, the violence the Nazis inflicted, and even the cremation of the bodies at the camps. That particular passage was difficult and riveting all at once.
For any history buff who enjoys folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy, this is a great novel about love and loss. I liked it and I would highly recommend it, but it would take a while for me to work up the courage to read again.
Rating: ★★★ of 5
GoodReads: 3.99 of 5